Nat Torkington

Nat has chaired the O'Reilly Open Source Convention and other O'Reilly conferences for over a decade. He ran the first web server in New Zealand, co-wrote the best-selling Perl Cookbook, and was one of the founding Radar bloggers. He lives in New Zealand and consults in the Asia-Pacific region.

Four short links: 10 April 2015

Four short links: 10 April 2015

Graph Algorithm, Touchy Robots, Python Bolt-Ons, and Building Data Products

  1. Exact Maximum Clique for Large or Massive Real Graphs — explanation of how BBMCSP works.
  2. Giving Robots and Prostheses the Human Touchthe team, led by mechanical engineer Veronica J. Santos, is constructing a language of touch that both a computer and a human can understand. The researchers are quantifying this with mechanical touch sensors that interact with objects of various shapes, sizes, and textures. Using an array of instrumentation, Santos’ team is able to translate that interaction into data a computer can understand. The data is used to create a formula or algorithm that gives the computer the ability to identify patterns among the items it has in its library of experiences and something it has never felt before. This research will help the team develop artificial haptic intelligence, which is, essentially, giving robots, as well as prostheses, the “human touch.”
  3. boltons — things in Python that should have been builtins.
  4. Everything We Wish We’d Known About Building Data Products (DJ Patil and RusJan Belkin) — Data is super messy, and data cleanup will always be literally 80% of the work. In other words, data is the problem. […] “If you’re not thinking about how to keep your data clean from the very beginning, you’re fucked. I guarantee it.” […] “Every single company I’ve worked at and talked to has the same problem without a single exception so far — poor data quality, especially tracking data,” he says.“Either there’s incomplete data, missing tracking data, duplicative tracking data.” To solve this problem, you must invest a ton of time and energy monitoring data quality. You need to monitor and alert as carefully as you monitor site SLAs. You need to treat data quality bugs as more than a first priority. Don’t be afraid to fail a deploy if you detect data quality issues.
Comments: 2
Four short links: 9 April 2015

Four short links: 9 April 2015

Robot Personalities, Programmer Competency, Docker Dependencies, and Large Files in Git

  1. Google’s Patent on Virtual People Personalities — via IEEE Spectrum, who are not bullish, a method for downloadable personalities. Prior art? Don’t talk to me about prior art. The only thing more depressing than this patent is the tech commentary that fails to cite Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
  2. Programmer Competency Matrix — a rubric for developer development.
  3. Aviator — Clever’s open source service dependency management tool, described here.
  4. Announcing Git’s Large File Storagean improved way to integrate large binary files such as audio samples, data sets, graphics, and videos into your Git workflow..
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Four short links: 8 April 2015

Four short links: 8 April 2015

Learning Poses, Kafkaesque Things, Hiring Research, and Robotic Movement

  1. Apple Patent on Learning-based Estimation of Hand and Finger Pose — machine learning to identify gestures (hand poses) that works even when partially occluded. See writeup in Apple Insider.
  2. The Internet of Kafkaesque Things (ACLU) — As computers are deployed in more regulatory roles, and therefore make more judgments about us, we may be afflicted with many more of the rigid, unjust rulings for which bureaucracies are so notorious.
  3. Schmidt and Hunter (1998): Validity and Utility of Selection Methods in Personnel (PDF) — On the basis of meta-analytic findings, this article examines and summarizes what 85 years of research in personnel psychology has revealed about the validity of measures of 19 different selection methods that can be used in making decisions about hiring, training, and developmental assignments. (via Wired)
  4. Complete Force Control in Constrained Under-actuated Mechanical Systems (Robohub) — Nori focuses on finding ways to advance the dynamic system of a robot – the forces that interact and make the system move. Key to developing dynamic movements in a robot is control, accompanied by the way the robot interacts with the environment. Nori talks us through the latest developments, designs, and formulas for floating-base/constrained mechanical systems, whole-body motion control of humanoid systems, whole-body dynamics computation on the iCub humanoid, and finishes with a video on recent implementations of whole-body motion control on the iCub. Video and download of presentation.
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Four short links: 7 April 2015

Four short links: 7 April 2015

JavaScript Numeric Methods, Misunderstood Statistics, Web Speed, and Sentiment Analysis

  1. NumericJS — numerical methods in JavaScript.
  2. P Values are not Error Probabilities (PDF) — In particular, we illustrate how this mixing of statistical testing methodologies has resulted in widespread confusion over the interpretation of p values (evidential measures) and α levels (measures of error). We demonstrate that this confusion was a problem between the Fisherian and Neyman–Pearson camps, is not uncommon among statisticians, is prevalent in statistics textbooks, and is well nigh universal in the pages of leading (marketing) journals. This mass confusion, in turn, has rendered applications of classical statistical testing all but meaningless among applied researchers.
  3. Breaking the 1000ms Time to Glass Mobile Barrier (YouTube) —
    See also slides. Stay under 250 ms to feel “fast.” Stay under 1000 ms to keep users’ attention.
  4. Modern Methods for Sentiment AnalysisRecently, Google developed a method called Word2Vec that captures the context of words, while at the same time reducing the size of the data. Gentle introduction, with code.
Comment: 1
Four short links: 6 April 2015

Four short links: 6 April 2015

Disruption, Copyright Investment, Max Headroom, and Right to Tinker

  1. The Difference Between Direct Competition and DisruptionAs the ships grow, their engines have become vastly more efficient and sophisticated, the fuel mix has changed, and complex IT infrastructure has been put in place to coordinate the movement of the containers and ships. But fundamentally, the underlying cost structure of the business has not changed from 1950, when the first container ships carried a mere 500 to 800 containers across the world. (via Salim Virani)
  2. The Impact of Copyright Policy Changes on Venture Capital Investment in Cloud Computing Companies (PDF) — Our findings suggest that decisions around the scope of copyrights can have significant impacts on investment and innovation. We find that VC investment in cloud computing firms increased significantly in the U.S. relative to the EU after the Cablevision decision. Our results suggest that the Cablevision decision led to additional incremental investment in U.S. cloud computing firms that ranged from $728 million to approximately $1.3 billion over the two-and-a-half years after the decision. When paired with the findings of the enhanced effects of VC investment relative to corporate investment, this may be the equivalent of $2 to $5 billion in traditional R&D investment.
  3. Max Headroom Oral History“Anybody under the age of 25 just loved it. And anybody above that age was just completely confused.”
  4. Auto Makers Say You Don’t Own Your Car (EFF) — Most of the automakers operating in the U.S. filed opposition comments through trade associations, along with a couple of other vehicle manufacturers. They warn that owners with the freedom to inspect and modify code will be capable of violating a wide range of laws and harming themselves and others. They say you shouldn’t be allowed to repair your own car because you might not do it right. They say you shouldn’t be allowed to modify the code in your car because you might defraud a used car purchaser by changing the mileage. They say no one should be allowed to even look at the code without the manufacturer’s permission because letting the public learn how cars work could help malicious hackers, “third-party software developers” (the horror!), and competitors.
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Four short links: 3 April 2015

Four short links: 3 April 2015

Augmenting Humans, Body-Powered CPUs, Predicting the Future, and Hermit Life

  1. Unpowered Ankle Exoskeleton“As we understand human biomechanics better, we’ve begun to see wearable robotic devices that can restore or enhance human motor performance,” says Collins. “This bodes well for a future with devices that are lightweight, energy-efficient, and relatively inexpensive, yet enhance human mobility.”
  2. Body-Powered Processing (Ars Technica) — The new SAM L21 32-bit ARM family of microcontroller (MCUs) consume less than 35 microamps of power per megahertz of processing speed while active, and less than 200 nanoamps of power overall when in deep sleep mode—with varying states in between. The chip is so low power that it can be powered off energy capture from the body. (via Greg Linden)
  3. Temporal Effects in Trend Prediction: Identifying the Most Popular Nodes in the Future (PLOSone) — We find that TBP have high general accuracy in predicting the future most popular nodes. More importantly, it can identify many potential objects with low popularity in the past but high popularity in the future.
  4. The Shut-In EconomyIn 1998, Carnegie Mellon researchers warned that the Internet could make us into hermits. They released a study monitoring the social behavior of 169 people making their first forays online. The Web-surfers started talking less with family and friends, and grew more isolated and depressed. “We were surprised to find that what is a social technology has such anti-social consequences,” said one of the researchers at the time. “And these are the same people who, when asked, describe the Internet as a positive thing.”
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Four short links: 2 April 2015

Four short links: 2 April 2015

250 Whys, Amazon Dash, Streaming Data, and Lightning Networks

  1. What I Learned from 250 WhysLet’s Plan for a Future Where We’re All As Stupid as We Are Today.
  2. Thoughts on Amazon Dash (Matt Webb) — In a way, we’re really seeing the future of marketing here. We’ve separated awareness (advertising) and distribution (stores) for so long, but it’s no longer the way. When you get a Buy Now button in a Tweet, you’re seeing ads and distribution merging, and the Button is the physical instantiation of this same trend. […] in the future every product will carry a buy button.
  3. A Collection of Links for Streaming Algorithms and Data Structures — is this not the most self-evident title ever?
  4. Lightning Networks (Rusty Russell) — I finally took a second swing at understanding the Lightning Network paper. The promise of this work is exceptional: instant, reliable transactions across the bitcoin network. But the implementation is complex, and the draft paper reads like a grab bag of ideas; but it truly rewards close reading! It doesn’t involve novel crypto, nor fancy bitcoin scripting tricks. There are several techniques that are used in the paper, so I plan to concentrate on one per post and wrap up at the end. Already posted part II.
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Four short links: 1 April 2015

Four short links: 1 April 2015

Tuning Fanout, Moore's Law, 3D Everything, and Social Graph Analysis

  1. Facebook’s Mystery MachineThe goal of this paper is very similar to that of Google Dapper[…]. Both work [to] try to figure out bottlenecks in performance in high fanout large-scale Internet services. Both work us[ing] similar methods, however this work (the mystery machine) tries to accomplish the task relying on less instrumentation than Google Dapper. The novelty of the mystery machine work is that it tries to infer the component call graph implicitly via mining the logs, where as Google Dapper instrumented each call in a meticulous manner and explicitly obtained the entire call graph.
  2. The Multiple Lives of Moore’s LawA shrinking transistor not only allowed more components to be crammed onto an integrated circuit but also made those transistors faster and less power hungry. This single factor has been responsible for much of the staying power of Moore’s Law, and it’s lasted through two very different incarnations. In the early days, a phase I call Moore’s Law 1.0, progress came by “scaling up”—adding more components to a chip. At first, the goal was simply to gobble up the discrete components of existing applications and put them in one reliable and inexpensive package. As a result, chips got bigger and more complex. The microprocessor, which emerged in the early 1970s, exemplifies this phase. But over the last few decades, progress in the semiconductor industry became dominated by Moore’s Law 2.0. This era is all about “scaling down,” driving down the size and cost of transistors even if the number of transistors per chip does not go up.
  3. BoXZY Rapid-Change FabLab: Mill, Laser Engraver, 3D Printer (Kickstarter) — project that promises you the ability to swap out heads to get different behaviour from the “move something in 3 dimensions” infrastructure in the box.
  4. SociaLite (Github) — a distributed query language for graph analysis and data mining. (via Ben Lorica)
Comment: 1
Four short links: 31 March 2015

Four short links: 31 March 2015

Boring Technology, Psychology Memes, Engineering Ladder, and Flatpack Refugee Shelters

  1. Choose Boring Technology (Dan McKinley) — Adding technology to your company comes with a cost. As an abstract statement this is obvious: if we’re already using Ruby, adding Python to the mix doesn’t feel sensible because the resulting complexity would outweigh Python’s marginal utility. But somehow when we’re talking about Python and Scala or MySQL and Redis, people lose their minds, discard all constraints, and start raving about using the best tool for the job.
  2. Dunning-Kruger and Other Memes — a reality check on the popsci conception of some psych research.
  3. Sharing our Engineering LadderIn addition to the ladder causing problems inside of my team, we were having a hard time evaluating candidates during interviews and determining what level to hire them into. Particularly at the more senior levels, it wasn’t clear what the criteria for success really looked like. So, together with my tech leads and engineering managers, we rewrote the ladder to be more specific. It has been very helpful both for the process of reviews and promotion committees as well as for the process of hiring.
  4. Ikea’s flat-pack refugee shelter is entering production (The Verge) — The UNHCR has agreed to buy 10,000 of the shelters, and will begin providing them to refugee families this summer. […] Measuring about 188 square feet, each shelter accommodates five people and includes a rooftop solar panel that powers a built-in lamp and USB outlet. The structure ships just like any other piece of Ikea furniture, with insulated, lightweight polymer panels, pipes, and wires packed into a cardboard box. According to Ikea, it only takes about four hours to assemble.
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Four short links: 30 March 2015

Four short links: 30 March 2015

Philosophical Research, Reading Turing, Security Exercises, and Golang Madness

  1. The Trolley and the PsychopathNot only does a “utilitarian” response (“just kill the fat guy”) not actually reflect a utilitarian outlook, it may actually be driven by broad antisocial tendencies, such as lowered empathy and a reduced aversion to causing someone harm. Questionably expanding scope of claims in the behavioural philosophy research. (via Ed Yong)
  2. Summary of Computing Machinery and Intelligence (1950) by Alan Turing (Jack Hoy) — still interesting and relevant today. cf Why Aren’t We Reading Turing
  3. Exploit Exercisesa variety of virtual machines, documentation, and challenges that can be used to learn about a variety of computer security issues, such as privilege escalation, vulnerability analysis, exploit development, debugging, reverse engineering, and general cyber security issues.
  4. GopherJS — golang to Javascript compiler so you can experience the ease of typed compiled languages in the security and stability of the browser platform.
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